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The Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa

Category: Books sutras and myths

The Brethren of Purity were a secret society based in Basra, Iraq, in the 10th century CE. “The structure of this mysterious organization and the identities of its members have never been clear”, but their esoteric teachings and philosophy are expounded  in the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity (Rasa'il Ikhwan al-safa'), a giant compendium that had considerable influence at this time.
'A good deal of Muslim and Western scholarship has been spent on just pinning down the identities of the Brethren and the century in which they were active'.

The Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’ consists of fifty-two treatises in mathematics, natural sciences, psychology (psychical sciences) and theology.

  • The first part, which is on mathematics, groups fourteen epistles that include treatises in arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, geography, and music, along with tracts in elementary logic, inclusive of: the Isagoge, the Categories, De Interpretatione, the Prior Analytics and the Posterior Analytics.
  • The second part, which is on natural sciences, gathers seventeen epistles on matter and form, creation and dissolution, 'metallurgy' in the alchemical sense, meteorology, a study of the essence of nature, the classes of plants and animals, including a fable.
  • The third part, which is on 'psychology', comprises ten epistles on the psychical and intellective sciences, dealing with the nature of the intellect and the intelligible, the symbolism of temporal cycles, the mystical essence of love, resurrection, causes and effects, definitions and descriptions.
  • The fourth part deals with theology in eleven epistles, investigating the varieties of religious sects, the virtue of the companionship of the Brethren of Purity, the properties of genuine belief, the nature of the Divine Law, the species of politics, and the essence of magic.

So what we can conclude is that they were essentially mystics because their proposals went beyond religion, as Wikipedia says they defined the perfect person as being a combination of the 'best' attributes from different religions

"of East Persian derivation, of Arabic faith, of Iraqi, that is Babylonian, in education, Hebrew in astuteness, a disciple of Christ in conduct, as pious as a Syrian monk, a Greek in natural sciences, an Indian in the interpretation of mysteries and, above all a Sufi or a mystic in his whole spiritual outlook".

So they belonged to the Brotherhood.

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